It may look like those animals are wearing jetpacks, but the truth is considerably grimmer. The history of warfare is rich with terrible ideas, but perhaps none are as out-the-gate disastrous as strapping an incendiary device to an enemy house cat and just praying it dutifully runs headlong back to your foe’s fortress.
That’s precisely the tactic offered by the author of the 16th-century German manuscript Feuerwerkbuch (Firework Book), who optimistically assumed a cat will sit still long enough to allow you to attach a flaming bag of doom to its back. German artillery specialist Franz Helm described such a tactic in 1530 (translation via The University of Pennsylvania):
If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well, and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.
As you can see from the illustration, bird bombs were also suggested. It’s unclear whether anybody ever attempted this uniquely depressing form of warfare, but we’d like to think that someone willing to engage in such animal cruelty was rewarded with a cat who, upon being armed with fire, immediately freaked out and ran down the closest tunic.
Take care of your cats, get them a nice cat tree.
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